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Last Updated: Tuesday, 20 January, 2004, 18:25 GMT
Complete mammoth skull unearthed
Mammoth skull, Mark O'Dell
The skull seems to have belonged to an elderly female mammoth
A complete mammoth skull has been unearthed in southern England, only the second to be found in Britain.

The specimen was discovered in a gravel pit in the Cotswolds and is estimated to be about 50,000 years old.

The only other complete specimen found in the UK is displayed in the Natural History Museum in London.

Scientists will attempt to date the mammoth skull using radiocarbon methods and will also use it to study the evolutionary history of mammoths.

The skull was found on Sunday 11 January by Dr Neville Hollingworth, a palaeontologist who works at the Natural Environment Research Council, and Dr Mark O'Dell, of science firm QinetiQ.

At about 1030 GMT on Sunday, Dr Hollingworth spotted a small piece of bone sticking out from a gully and then he and Dr O'Dell dug the specimen up together.


"It was beautifully preserved, almost as if it died yesterday," said Dr Hollingworth.

"It was quite amazing, we didn't expect to find anything like this. All I saw was a small piece of bone sticking out at the side of this clay face which had gravel in it.

"We started to dig and it got bigger and bigger and bigger. And after about 10 minutes of digging we realised that we had something a little bit more than just a bone fragment.

The mammoth may have been between the ages of 25 and 40 when it died

It took them nearly four hours to dig out the complete mammoth skull.

"It was a superhuman effort. At times I never thought we were going to get the thing out," said Dr O'Dell.

"I think if we'd waited another day, we would have lost it. Fortunately for us the rains had stopped the [heavy diggers]."

Dr Adrian Lister, a mammoth expert from University College London, has carried out a preliminary analysis of the skull.

The mammoth was an elderly female between 25 and 40 years old, which probably weighed between four and five tonnes.

The tusks, which would have been up to 2.4m (eight feet) long, were missing from the skull and the experts now plan to look for these in the quarry, which is currently flooded due to rain.

The scientists were able to "age" the mammoth from its teeth. Mammoths went through six sets of teeth as they got older and they increased in size as the animals aged.

Dr Hollingworth said he thought the excellent preservation of the skull suggested the mammoth could have died in a flood.

Comparing the new skull with the one on display in the Natural History Museum may give scientists information about the evolutionary history of this species.

The BBC's Christine McGourty
"The skull may give clues as to how they became extinct"

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